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Fall 2011

Moral Drama, Melodrama: The Origins of Popular Culture

Instructors: Sarah Maza (History), Susan Phillips (English), and Julia Stern (English)

On the screen, on the stage, in the sports arena, heroes and villains enjoy almost instant recognition, whether because of their costumes, their exaggerated gestures and facial expressions, or the tell-tale musical phrases that accompany them. And while those visual and aural cues are far from the halos and white steeds or twirled mustaches and black hats of the past, they are immediately identifiable nonetheless. Popular culture defines and is defined by moral polarities, as good and evil repeatedly battle one another in all manner of popular entertainment. But what are the origins of these exaggerated representations of good and evil?  And what do they convey about a society's attitudes toward justice, patriotism, gender difference, racial inequity, class conflict, and political dissent?

Winter 2010

Testimony and Justice: Dilemmas in the Good Society

Benjamin Frommer (History), Jennifer Lackey (Philosophy), Galya Ruffer (Political Science)

This course focuses on the language, logic, and representational forms (e.g., witness accounts, memoirs, artistic representations) used in the cultural practice of testimony to explore questions of justice in a particular society, between societies, and on a global scale. Whether the little injustices of everyday life or the profound injustice of crime within a society or against humanity, testimony is the medium/mode through which voices are heard or silenced and narratives take shape and are contested. Testimony points to the limits of knowledge, the complexity of "telling the truth," the adaptability of history, and the survival of a particular account of oneself and one’s experience in tension with competing demands and narratives in a society.